The brand may have eventually changed the outdoor equipment world, but its story began with family – and an introduction to adventure that endured.
In 1934 at the age of 16, Ralph Lowe and his uncle travelled the hundred miles from St Anthony, Idaho into Wyoming to climb the biggest of the Grand Teton mountains. This range and its eponymous national park is the Snowdonia of the American West: packed to the rafters with rites of passage, iconic objectives and the handing down of outdoor passion from generation to generation. This was certainly the case with Ralph: within a decade he was climbing further afield, once driving 800 miles and climbing giants like Mount Rainier whatever the weather in the slender gap between Friday night and Monday morning. But Grand Teton was the peak to which he would return to as a climber – and later, as a father.
It would be on Grand Teton that three of his eight children – Mike, Greg and Jeff – would galvanise a love of the mountains that would not only last their lifetimes but give birth to one of the most iconic and influential equipment brands ever. But that came later. Jeff Lowe was just seven years old when he became the youngest person ever to climb the Exum Ridge of Grand Teton, with his father and older brother, eight-year-old Greg, in 1958. Mike Lowe, then 12, was a virtual veteran of the mountain by this point and was already developing a clear philosophy that would steer both him and his brothers through the decades of adventure to follow.
“For us the climb of Grand Teton was a graduation into the ability to carry a pack, bivouac, follow a route, tie our knots…” remembers Mike Lowe. “The skills and judgment learned in those early years became the basis for our pursuit of recreation, work and lifestyle.”
Their younger formative years in the mountains were extremely fruitful for the Lowe boys. By the time they were in their teens their technical abilities surpassed those of their father – something which Jeff Lowe credits to Ralph imparting encouragement tempered with a solid sense of accountability to his sons. “Some of my earliest memories are of dad reading Robert Service poetry, or Jack London stories, or telling his own of attempting to climb the Grand Teton at 16 years old.” remembers Jeff. “He personified the idea that nothing is impossible in this incredible natural world. He really trusted us, but that’s because he always taught us that whatever happens, we’re responsible.”
“Most of our climbing in the years to follow was on our own, but with the support of a father who put no limits on what we could attempt,” agrees Mike. “We’ve stayed with the mountains since then. What we found has been good to us.”
Jeff in particular was bewitched by the magic of the mountains. “I was fascinated by the way landscape changed as we hiked up through thinning pines into the alpine zone of moraine and snow, furry marmots, the sounds of gurgling runoff water and sharp pika squeaks. Alpenglow and a can of beans at high camp, the Milky Way and a billion points of light in the frosty night. It was all an adventure and I was hooked from the get-go.”
As their adventures grew in scope, the Lowe brothers began to push beyond the equipment available to them in the 1960s. Since childhood, Greg had been interested in design – typically model rockets and chemistry sets, but rather impressively (if inadvisably) once converted a toy cap gun into an actual weapon, for which he created his own gunpowder. Soon hobby converged with ability and Greg began designing equipment, with predictably bountiful results.
In combination with his own inventive mind and love of hard rock climbs – and Jeff’s developing fascination with Alpinestyle routes in the Himalayas, the recipe for the company’s founding in 1967 was set. It was a family endeavour, and concerned sharpening the cutting edge of both mountaineering and equipment, so in many ways the name created itself: Lowe Alpine.
Fifty years later and Lowe Alpine is still at that cutting edge. But the story of the intervening years – and the astonishing range of equipment firsts that would define the company, from the birth of the modern backpack and ice tools to the first porta-ledge tent – remains as surprising and extraordinary as ever. And it all started in a basement in Ogden, Utah in 1967.
Lowe Alpine - 50 years of firsts
"Moments combine to make a lifetime. Products designed, routes ticked and summits conquered – we are the sum of our experiences."
Trail presents the complete story of the most iconic gear brand in the world.